Written and Photographed By: Erika Stanley

TOKYO 1999 Cm
TOKYO 1999 P1&2M

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By: Erika Stanley

The politeness of the Japanese was apparent even before I boarded the plane to Tokyo. Instead of the usual herd of overweight Americans shoving their way to the gate (when their row hasn't even been called yet), the passengers to Tokyo stood in a neat and patient line. This made the boarding process smooth and tolerable. Yet, I had the feeling that this would only be the first of a series of examples set by the Japanese that might teach a selfish westerner a thing or two about culture and courtesy.

Making my way through the train system into Harajuku, the trendy area of Tokyo, was a snap, thanks to the fax I received from my friend, and fellow woman tattooer, Sezuki. My first stop was Scratch Addiction Tattoo Studio, where Running Bear, Permanent Mark and Annemarie greeted me with smiles and hugs. Then, they busied themselves with the organizing of Japan's first international tattoo convention, Suishin. P.M. gave me an invitation to the night's event to be held at Zen Bar, where I rendezvoused with P.M. (the host with the most), Corey Miller (Southern California), Hanky Panky (mostly planet earth), Henning Jorgensen (Denmark), Bob Baxter (magazine editor), Roonui (Tahiti), Pepe (funkerrific artiste), Stephane (Corsica), Sezuki (Japan) and other greats of the tattoo world. It wasn't long before the excessive flow of beer and jet lag hijacked my consciousness.

On Thursday, the 30th of September, the tattoo gods were with me. P.M. told me earlier about a group tour going to Horiyoshi III's Tattoo museum, but I was too brain dead to register any of his instructions. Just as I was about to give up on finding the meeting point on time, I got all the information via a phone call from Horiken (Tokyo). He was actually at the meeting point with a large number of tattoo artists. The round-trip to Yokohama, entrance, and lunch were thoughtfully arranged by P.M. and his angels, Annemarie and Lise. The whole package only cost 2000 yen (about $20). The 200 mile walk in 150 degree heat with 1000 percent humidity was worth it. Especially for those of us suffering the first signs of dementia from the slow boil of our brains. We savored the irony of our large group of westerners, armed with cameras, lost in Japan.

The low-ceiling museum was packed with memorabilia from the fantastic tattoo world we are fortunate enough to participate in: Photos of Japanese women with traditionally waxed hair do's getting tattooed, human body parts, tattoo machines and flash from around the world, and Charles Manson's letters (although I'm not sure why an entire display case was devoted to Charlie and his, "Manson Speaks" tapes-maybe because he's tattooed). Some artists thoughtfully brought cigars and gifts (the Japanese tradition of Omiyage). Lucky Bastard donated a single coil machine with wood grip and the most interesting spring system I've seen so far. He said it may have been built by Tattoo Peter in Holland. Before we left, everyone gathered for a group shot outside the museum and all the men got to sign a skull that Horiyoshi III will probably keep for display. We said our good-byes and the barracudas swam through the humidity to the feeding grounds. I foolishly opted to have a couple of cocktails to cool off, before I ate. When I got to the buffet all that was left was some shrapnel, and a severely undercooked chicken wing. The cook saw my disappointment and made the best quesadilla this side of the Pacific for me.

The crowd thinned and my panic swelled as I realized that in order to meet Stan Corona (Los Angeles) in Tokyo, I needed to leave immediately. Which wasn't so bad, except that I would have to navigate the journey by myself, drunk and I didn't pay attention to how we got to Yokohama. Tin Tin (Paris) and the Ciferri brothers, Seth and Adam (Baltimore and Minneapolis respectively), had a surge of motivation and confidence to make the journey back, so I thought I'd stick with them. Eventually we got to Tokyo, with the use of my fragmented knowledge of Japanese. But not before Adam humored us with his antics while Tin Tin nodded off on the train from jet lag. What the boys didn't know, was that I was more impressed with my Japanese vocabulary than they were!

We arrived at Scratch Addiction and luckily bumped into Stan on our way out. He was sweaty and exhausted from 38 hours in transit. He left directly after his band's East Coast tour to skid across the U.S. over 12 hours and three planes, pick up tattoo gear and my fax, and jump on another 12 hour flight to Tokyo. I thought it would be best to call it a night in order to be fresh for the photo shoot at the temple and the welcome dinner and karaoke club planned for the next day.

The photo shoot was canceled, since many of the main artists were busy tattooing well into the evening. At the dinner, Annemarie created a slew of monsters, by telling everyone that it would only cost us 3000 Yen a piece for all we could drink and eat. Food was barely consumed, but the sake and beer was fairly wiped out as the barracudas transformed into alcoholic camels, storing up for the karaoke club. Before leaving the restaurant, the herd not only drank a sea of alcohol, it rained chopsticks and napkins in a gluttony that would've made Louis the XIV look like he was in AA. We ran the bill up, over 30,000 Yen! Some people unfortunately left before the bill was settled. And the place was trashed! So much for learning social graces from the Japanese.

A few mosh pits and pit stops later, the herd arrived at the club where Horiyoshi III and an ill-prepared crew of bartenders greeted us. The place filled up quickly with more who couldn't make the dinner, artists just off work and others waiting to witness the vocal talents of the tattoo world. Filip & Titine Leu, Mick and Luke graced our presence wearing specially made kimonos of tattoo motif fabrics. The paparazzi ensued. My pickled liver and dehydrated brain told me to leave early. The next morning would be the only one which I would awake after 9:00 AM.

I arrived late to the convention, with tons of camera gear and a mild hang over (I don't know how may times I must remind myself to not mix alcohols). The crowd was intense. In a country where conformity is a virtue and individuality is frowned upon, the inked bodies tend to be gracefully hidden under appropriate clothing while in public. Not here! This was the opportunity of a lifetime for most of the locals to grin and bare it. My anticipation was inadequate, for the actual event was a glorious unveiling of the beauty and tradition of tattooing in Japan. Not only were there the usual sights beheld at western conventions: traditional, bold lines and color, black and gray, and western interpretations of Asian art, the elegance of traditional Japanese tattoos made its cameo along side tattoo history. I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to not only witness this unveiling, but to document it on film as well. What an honor! Well worth all sacrifices I made to get here!

Permanent Mark, with the help of Horiyoshi III, Hanky Panky, Kawajiri (owner of Scratch Addiction) and all of the attendees, made this historic tattoo event possible amid the ominous politics of the Japanese. If it were not for this grand cooperation, an event of this nature and scale may never have been possible. I know I can speak on behalf of all who were there to participate when I say, "Doomo arigato gozai mashta." Thank you very much. Hopefully this will, once again, open Japan to the world...of tattoos.

List of working artists:
Geordie Cole
Ron Ackers
George Bone
Adam & Seth Ciferri
Freddie Corbin
Stan Corona
Clay Decker
Chris Garver
Henning Jorgensen
Filip & Titine Leu
Trevor McStay
Corey Miller
Eric Maaske
Bob & Charlie Roberts
Dave Shore
Chris Trevino
Mike Wilson
Baby Ray
Mr. Cartoon
Running Bear
Hollywood Mark
Hanky Panky
Lucky Bastard
Horiyoshi III